Curtis Turney III is a 22-year-old rising entrepreneur from Queens, New York. A Delaware State alum, Curtis first realized his talents as a graphic design artist during his tenure at the university. He has now decided to pay homage by embarking on an HBCU tour. The Buzz recently talked with Curtis about his plans and what inspired him. Here’s how the conversation went…
LaTavia: Can you tell me a little bit about how you first got started designing and what exactly is the HBCU tour?
Curtis Turney: My senior year I started CT3 designs and from there after I graduated I started making my own clothes. I designed my own clothes because I was making apparel for Del State. A lot of students didn’t like the apparel that was at the book store, they said it was too plain, more old people style, so I decided to make more urban, more stylish apparel for the school. I use to sell out all the time – lines looking like Jordan releases and stuff like that. So people told me I should take it further. Once I graduated I took my passion and my dream of clothing designing even further. I got a degree in Information Technology and I was like, “Man I don’t really want to do this, I want to chase my dreams.” So I did that. I opened up my own website and started working with different companies on printing my shirts and printing different pieces of clothing and I was selling out still. So to keep myself relevant and to build my clientele I thought, “I started at an HBCU, so why not bless and share my knowledge and share my designs with other HBCUs.” If Del State thinks, “Oh, their apparel at their school is not up to par,” or it’s not stylish enough, why not do it for other HBCUs?
I started with Bowie State. I made their 150th anniversary long sleeve t-shirt and their “I Love Bowie Week” shirt. From there I started the HBCU tour. The HBCU tour is just me designing apparel for HBCUs, different HBCUs on the east coast. And if they love it or if they like it, I’ll sell it to them for a decent price and I will visit that school if I have time. I’m going back to the Delaware State to drop the newest shirt. And it’s called the “Turn up or Transfer” Shirt. And I’m also thinking about visiting Howard in DC because I’ll be in DC the day after.
I entered the Morgan State University T-shirt contest and I designed about 16-17 different designs and they hit me back like “Oh my God, you’re designs are fire.” They weren’t expecting 16 different designs but the way I am is I design a shirt and I love criticism so I’ll send it out it to different people to see if they would wear it. And they’ll say “Yea I’ll wear that,” or “I feel like the MSU should be here…” and so forth. So I thought I would do 16 different styles in 16 different ways and it shocked them.
When people see a college tour they’re like “Curtis, you’re gone go to all these schools?” I plan to travel but some of it is me just traveling from my laptop with doing different designs. It’s still an HBCU tour throughout the east coast just designing their apparel from my laptop. I won’t make appearances to certain colleges.
LaTavia: Well that sounds interesting! You said you sent Morgan State 16 different shirts. Is that how you always design?
Curtis: Yea I like to design different varieties to hear people’s thoughts and criticisms and before I even drop anything I send it to my biggest criticizers in my phone book. And I also sent them to some people from Morgan State to see their opinion of it as well. Actually the 16-17 shirts I sent were the most I ever did for any school, any company or any person. I usually do five to six but every time I made one shirt I’m like, “I think I can make it better.” I made the next shirt and thought I could make that one even better. So I ended up with 16 different styles of 16 different shirts.
LaTavia: So tell me how you think Delaware State actually helped you get to where you are now?
Curtis: I started my freshman year, I was from New York and I was only hanging with the New York crew but I knew I was different so I decided I had to do something to separate myself from them. So I started an organization called Future Leaders in Progress (FLIP) on campus and from there I became the president. I left that and became secretary for the Campus Activity Board (CAB). With FLIP and CAB I was designing flyers and logos. I was new to graphic design but I was taught by different marketing directors at my school who were teaching me how to use Photoshop. They taught me so much that I implemented in with FLIP and CAB that people told me I was getting better and I should start getting paid. I never thought of it like that, I just figured it was just a service because nobody else wanted to do it. So I started making a list of things to charge like $20 a flyer and $15 for a logo and stuff like that. Once junior year came I started making actual apparel. The first shirt was for SGA 2013-2014, they wanted an “I Love DSU” shirt but wanted to use the Magna Carta album cover with a cross and a line going across the “I Love” and it really sold well. People still ask for it to this day. I tried to get my clothes to the bookstore and they denied me so I said I would do it my own way. I started working with SGA and they paid for my designs and they bought like 2,000 extra shirts and we gave them out to the students and they were happy. But other than that, Del State helped me grow as a leader, and definitely as a student.
LaTavia: Are you still a vital part of the FLIP program?
Curtis: Yea, now I’m a founder and FLIP is in it’s third term. I’m one of the five founders.
LaTavia: So what are some of the things that FLIP has done?
Curtis: We started a Sunday Campus Clean-Up of Delaware State campus. Every Sunday after a Saturday party or get together we would go around and clean the campus. We knew that this (Delaware State) was our campus and we love for our campus to be beautiful and we did not want to see the maintenance workers or custodians always working. So we let them know that we appreciate it and we were out there with them. We had gloves and trash bags and we’d go around campus. We also started entrepreneurial expos where different people that are entrepreneurs could showcase anything such as make up, make up artists, different designers and clothes, basically anything. Those are two big programs that we started.
LaTavia: That’s great! My next question is other than just designing the shirts for the HBCUs do you have another clothing line in the works, or are you just collaborating with people right now?
Curtis: I myself, am my own clothing line. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a clothing line, I call it merchandise and apparel. I have a website called ct3clothing.weebly.com and I have a list of different designs that I have until maybe next year. What I do is I drop one piece one by one. I think all my pieces are too exclusive to just put all of them together on one webpage so I drop my clothes piece-by-piece, one-by-one and I sell out like crazy. I’ll probably get 100 pieces and I’ll probably sell out in two days. And that piece will be the only one up on my website. So when you go up there a lot of times you’ll only see one t-shirt, or a hat or sweater there. That’s my own tactic, to drop my shirts one-by-one. I build the anticipation using social media, proper promotion, I use my support systems and my fan base.
LaTavia: Are there any other additional projects that you are working on other than the merchandise and your HBCU tour?
Curtis: I’m trying to actually work my way back into Del State to get a marketing design position so I can be able to actually officially design clothes, apparel, flyers, logos and I’m still waiting to here back on that. Other than that, I’m just going to continue to work on my business and the HBCU college tour.
LaTavia: What advice do you have for any college students who are trying to go into business for themselves and become their own brand?
Curtis: The first thing is don’t give up. You’re going to have your up and downs- I started directly after I graduated and things are great and smooth but I know there are going to be ups and downs. There are going to be trials and tribulations that come towards me so I already know that I have to stay strong, stay positive and continue to chase my dreams. Strive to take your passion to the next level and take your talents above – People say the sky’s the limit but we have stars and a galaxy above that so you have to reach to the highest level you can and just keep chasing your dream.